A small landlocked country between South Africa and Mozambique, Swaziland is often crossed by tourists traveling to South Africa, as it is ideally located on the shortest route between Kruger Park and KwaZulu Natal. Because we wanted to take the time and not chained the long days of travel, we decided to extend our stay in Swaziland, not knowing what to expect from the last (or almost) absolute monarchy of the globe.
As you will realize, this is an ideal country for hikers, the scenery is superb and there is plenty to do between the various nature parks. We have chosen to focus on discovering the nature wonders of the country, but if you are more interested in the cultural aspect, you can visit renovated villages such as the cultural village of Mantenga in the centre of the country or Matsamo where we can see the traditional dance demonstrations. It seemed pretty interesting to do, however the show times did not fit with the other things we wanted to do. In this article, you will find the program of our 3 days in Swaziland (2 full days and 2 half days). Hopefully, after reading this article you will be very tempted to visit this small country that deserves to be better known.
After 3 days of safaris at Kruger Park, we head for the exit through the Malelane Gate towards our next stop: Swaziland. After a good hour’s drive, we reach the Jeppes Reef border crossing. Border posts between South Africa and Swaziland are not open 24 hours a day. Most of them are open from 7 am to 8 pm, but some stations close at 4 pm. Check the opening hours before your trip and avoid an unpleasant surprise. I advise you to avoid driving at night. Just like in South Africa, there are a lot of pedestrians and cattle on the roadside. There are many speed bumps on roads and you won’t see them night time. The formalities to cross the border are quite fast. You will have to pay a tax of entry into the territory (tax for the car).
Phophonyane Falls Ecolodge
Forty minutes drive from the border crossing; you will reach the Phophonyane Falls Ecolodge which is located inside a small private nature reserve. The 3-kilometer road that leads to the hotel is in a very bad shape. The site is beautiful. We recommend that you spend the night and enjoy the beautiful bungalows. There are many hiking opportunities offered by the lodge. It is not necessary to be a guest of the hotel to visit the reserve. Just register at the hotel reception and in exchange for a small amount (around 50 Rands) you will be given a map of the reserve. Just 2 hours will be enough to fully enjoy the beauty of the site and the fabulous Phophonyane waterfall.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
The Mlilwane Reserve is one of our favorite’s sites in Swaziland. It is a large park in which it is possible to hike among animals in freedom. Apart from the shy leopard, the park does not have Big Five animals. It is therefore possible to visit the site on foot. Just be mindful to keep your distances from crocodiles and hippos present around the lake. The history of this park is fascinating. In the middle of the twentieth century, massive hunting had almost extinct all wild animals in Swaziland. Farmer Ted Reilly with the support of King Sohbhuza II had the idea of creating a wildlife sanctuary for Swaziland’s farmland. Animals were captured and moved to the reserve. Originally of modest size, it was gradually enlarged over the years and now covers an area of more than 4500 hectares. It is more difficult to observe animals while walking than during a car safari. The animals are far away from us and are more fearful, which makes the approach difficult. Nevertheless with good binoculars, it is possible to have fun. You will see Nyala, Kudu, warthogs, zebras, hippopotamuses and even crocodiles.
Walking around wild animals in the wild is more magical than watching them from inside the car. We advise you to buy the map of the park (10 R) not to get lost and choose the routes you want to follow.
Malolotja Nature Reserve
Malolotja Nature Reserve is located in the north west of the country about 1 hour drive from Mlilwane. The reserve is best known for its attraction “Malolotja Canopy Tour” a circuit of 2h30. Malolotja Park is also a huge wild reserve and not very frequented by visitors. During your exploration, you will have the opportunity to observe with binoculars damalisks, a species of antelope typical of Southern Africa.
Lobamba and the Swaziland National Museum
Visit the National Museum in Lobamba. It is possible to couple this visit with the mausoleum of the king next door. The National Museum of Swaziland is very small, quite old, and the ticket is quite expensive for what there is to see. Nothing extraordinary, but will give you the opportunity to learn a little more about the history and customs of this country. The part that has interested us the most is the story of the twentieth of Swaziland told in vintage photos (some of which are quite funny). You will learn that Swaziland is the only country in Africa that has maintained the same political regime before and after colonization. After the departure of the British, a parliamentary monarchy was established, but when the king lost the first elections, it decided to dissolve the assembly, to prohibit the political parties, and to establish an absolute monarchy. We do not know much about the current regime, as well as the rights, or rather, we should say, the lack of rights of the citizens of Swaziland.
The place is very nice, in the heart of nature, where impalas and warthogs walk freely. The rondavels of Sondzela Backpaper are rustic: no heating, no individual toilets, but you might have electric power. It is possible to have breakfast and dinner, or to cook your own meals. We chose the first option, inexpensive and because it saved us from shopping and cooking. The meals are pretty decent for the price. They are served outside by the fire camp (I was shocked by the amount of wood used for the preparation of the meal). We chose the budget accommodation of 30 USD per night for two, because we wanted to sleep in the heart of the Hluhluwe reserve. So we have to catch up a bit to avoid exploding the budget. The Sondzela Backpackers is a good option because the setting is really nice which largely compensates the sobriety of accommodation. Sondzela Backpackers also offers standard rooms in the main building.
Where to eat and drink?
The Mandela’s Restaurant, located not far from the hotel, is located in the middle of a beautiful landscaped park with a view of the Mlilwane Nature Reserve‘s mountains. It’s a little piece of paradise in which we had a drink after a day of hiking in the Malolotja reserve. For your own information, this place is also Guest House, a more comfortable alternative to Sondzela Backpackers, and very close to the Mlilwane Nature Reserve. This kind of absolutely divine place seems to be characteristic of Swaziland’s tourist sites. It must be said that Swaziland is a very poor country. The majority of people live on less than $ 2 a day.
If you’re planning a trip to Swaziland, be aware that most points of interest are around the Ezulwini Valley. It is also in this valley that we find all the shops, supermarket, shop craftsmen, etc. So it is a fairly strategic area, which I recommend you choose for your stay. From what I have read and briefly seen, Mbabane and Manzini which are two important cities have very little interest. The country is quite small; it is possible to access all the natural parks in 1 hour maximum of road from this valley. In addition to the sites described in this article, the other two main reserves are the Hlane Royal Reserve, known for its lions, and the Mkhaya Park, where rhinos have been reintroduced.